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Love on Burns night


Robert Burns's poems and songs are widely loved and quoted, often around Burns suppers, which are held tonight, the anniversary of his birth, on every continent on earth. Cold it is, in Scotland and Antarctica both, but Scotland and the British Antarctic Survey are always primed for a Burns repast. The haggis arrives, and by good fortune is met by the whisky, which renders it harmless. Speeches in Burns’s honour are made, and his songs are sung. The lasses, of whom Burns was very fond, are toasted, and respond (with wit and delicacy) by roasting the laddies. All of us, no matter who we are, can lift the cup of kindness and share our regard with strangers.

Born on January 25th 1759 in Alloway, Burns was deeply affected by Scottish folk songs, classical, Biblical, and English literature. Their strengths and beauties appear in his poems and songs. But what was it that drew Abraham Lincoln to him? -

The Bible lay on the bedside table every night that Lincoln spent in the White House, but it was not alone. Beside it lay his copy of the collected works of Robert Burns, many of which Lincoln knew by heart, having learned them as a child in the family cabin in Missouri. . .

Burns's song A man's a man for a' that could have appealed to Lincoln, but perhaps it was Burns's mouse? Jim Malcolm covers A Man. The lyrics are below.

Is there for honest Poverty

That hings his head, an' a' that;

The coward slave-we pass him by,

We dare be poor for a' that!

For a' that, an' a' that,

Our toils obscure an' a' that,

The rank is but the guinea's stamp,

The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a cuif for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.


One of many statues of Burns around the world, this one suggests his intensity. He looks young - he was only 37 when he died. The statue, in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC, was unveiled by Ramsay MacDonald, Prime Minister of Britain, in 1928. The plaque reads –

Robert Burns’s sincere desire for friendship and brotherhood among all people is clearly shown in his many poems and songs. His poetry and letters, both serious and humorous, are worthy of study by those who value liberty and freedom.

Yes. No matter that Burns had to work as a customs agent, his love of liberty escaped the crush of the exchequer.

Burns was a many-faceted artist. We love his affection for a little, frightened mouse and the tenderness which brings him very close and desperately far from the "tim'rous beastie". Hannah Gordon's reading of To A Mouse is a gem.

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie,

O, what panic's in thy breastie!

Thou need na start awa sae hasty,

Wi' bickering brattle!

I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,

Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Burns is real and with his heart on fire for the real world, blesses us -

"Thine be ilka joy and treasure, ?
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure." ??

This post has been edited and republished.

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